|(c) Levente Peterffy|
I look upon the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the cantina on Jondari. Fifteen years into the glorious rule of the Empire, and there are still places like this strewn all over the Galaxy; existing right under the nose of the authorities, where illegal deals and criminal activities are carried out; where those scum, the Rebels, flourish.
I know the time will come when all the Galaxy will bow to Emperor Palpatine, from the aristocrats in their palaces to the minor miscreants in run-down places like this. But for now, the Emperor has other priorities, and so these places are allowed to exist.
“Why are we here, Agent Taus?”
He’s a good lad, is Captain Argon. Top of his class at the Imperial Academy. Has become my right-hand man in many ways.
“To smoke out a Rebel cell, Argon,” I say, checking my blaster. It’s fully-charged. It was when I left the ship, of course, but it never hurts to check again. In the Empire, we are nothing if not thorough. Argon does the same.
“What information do we have? You didn’t brief me at the base as you usually do.”
“Indeed, Argon, because this information is for your ears only. You know what our primary task is, don’t you?”
“To locate, investigate and eliminate all Rebel activity.”
“That’s right. And we have done that pretty well so far, haven’t we?”
“We have, Agent Taus.”
“Well, a Rebel cell exists on Jondari. We know this because there have been several attacks on our fuel shipments over the course of the last few rotations, and plotting out where they occurred on a map leads us to believe Jondari must be the locus of these attacks, ergo…”
“The Rebels have a base here.”
“That’s right. And our people have been searching for it, but with no success. Until earlier today, I intercepted a scrambled transmission sent from here. From this specific cantina—”
“If it was a scrambled transmission, how did you gather anything from it?”
I take back my words about Argon. He asks too many questions.
“It doesn’t matter what it said, you idiot, why would anyone send a scrambled transmission if they weren’t Rebels?”
“There could be any number of reasons why a transmission would be scrambled,” he says.
“By the Emperor, Argon! What are you, a bleedin’ Jedi? Always looking for another explanation that doesn’t incriminate people?”
“What’s a Jedi, Agent Taus?” he asks, reminding me he’s from an Outer Rim planet that probably never heard of those cultists.
“It was a religious order of warrior monks sort of thing,” I tell him. “They had a Temple up on Coruscant and fought with light-sabers and what not. Advocated peace and brotherhood…up until they tried to kill the Emperor. This was before he was the Emperor, but you get my drift. We got rid of them all, we did.”
“What’s a light-saber?”
“Oh pfft…what does it sound like? There was a handle, see? And when you pressed a switch on it, a laser-blade would come from the handle, like a sword-blade. I remember they would be green or blue in colour, and could cut through anything, even metal. Very dangerous, they were. Very very dangerous. Took a lot of good soldiers to kill them all. Haven’t seen one these last fifteen years though, thank the Emperor! Good riddance.”
“Did you ever see a Jedi yourself, Agent Taus?”
“Matter of fact, yes. I was assigned as a Senate Guard back during the Clone Wars. Saw my share of those nasty traitors. Shaak-Ti, Depa Billaba, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
“Isn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi on the list of the Empire’s most wanted criminals?”
“Indeed he is, number one on the list.”
“Who’s number two?”
Fact is, I don’t remember, the Most Wanted list is well above my pay grade. I have not seen it in years. That’s the purview of the Emperor’s Special Enforcer, that creepy half-machine, Darth Vader.
So to change the subject I stride past him, into the cantina, and fire my blaster at the ceiling. This results in a section of the roof falling on my head and sending me sprawling to the ground. I am thankful for my helmet, I guess I’d have gotten a much nastier hit without it. Argon helps me get back up, as every patron in the cantina stares at us.
“You’re supposed to set it to minimum damage mode before shooting at ceilings, Agent Taus. It says in Standard Operating Procedure Manual Rule number…”
“Shut up, Argon,” I grumble.
These provincials like Argon can really get on the nerves sometimes. I look around the cantina. The bartender is a Rodian. One of the waitresses is a Palliduvan, another a Trandoshan. The band is Bith, and there are two dancers, one a Palliduvian (who finds that attractive, I cannot imagine—creepy as anything with that pale white skin and slit eyes) and another—well, this is a surprise—a rather attractive Togruta. The dancers one gets to see on these boondock planets are usually the rejects of better places—girls too old or too unattractive to pass muster there. But this one is a beauty; red skin, white markings, tall white lekkus with bright blue stripes. She reminds me of someone I’ve seen somewhere, I don’t quite remember now, but…but it doesn’t matter. After all, they are all typical alien scum. The Republic encouraged equal rights for all races and laws to keep those protections in place. Absolute bantha-shit! Humans are superior, and the Empire has ensured these riff-raff know their place.
“This is Imperial Agent Taus,” I announce. “Everyone stay in your places. Who is in charge here?”
The Rodian steps forward from behind the bar and starts speaking his gibberish. The problem with these middle-of-nowhere planets like Jondari is that species like Rodians, who are perfectly capable of forming human words, are able to get away with never learning a proper language.
“Anyone who speaks Imperial Basic?” I say.
“We can send for a interpreter droid,” says Argon. “We can—”
“Can I help you with anything, Agent Taus?” The Togruta dancer steps down from her stage. She’s dressed in a clinging blue blouse, matching skirt, and has a clear voice with a perfect Coruscanti inflection. Impressive, for a cantina dancer.
“I’m Captain Argon,” says Argon. “We are here to—”
“Shut up, Argon,” I say. “We don’t want to talk to an alien whore like you, we need to talk to someone with responsibility! Can someone translate the Rodian’s speech? The Palliduvian?” I don’t like Palliduvians much; but they look more human than these animals like Togruta and Trandoshans and the like.
“I am the Manager of this establishment, Agent Taus,” she says, pulling on a grey robe that she had draped over a stand by the wall. “Aldo here works for me. Now what was it you wanted?”
I hide my surprise that an alien woman, and a Torgruta at that, could be a Manager of any establishment, though I suppose a tiny cantina like this is not very particular.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“Padme,” she replies. “Padme…Offee.”
“Well, Padme Offee, a transmission was sent from here four standard hours ago,” I say. “A scrambled transmission. Oh, don’t worry, our best minds are working on decoding it, but we don’t need to know what it says to know it has to have been sent by a Rebel operative.”
“A scrambled transmission, from here? Interesting…we do have two holo-communicators, but they are on an open frequency,” she says, pointing.
“Someone must have brought in a scrambler,” says Argon.
“It’s possible,” says the Togruta female. “You can check the two there, all the comms sent out…we record every message. If someone brought a scrambler, it would encrypt the signal as it went out, but it would be intact on our recorder.”
We follow her to a room behind the bar, where she leads us to a desk and pulls up the holo-recordings in a few strokes of a touchpad.
“Four hours ago, did you say?” she asks.
“Yes,” I confirm.
A series of recordings begin to play. They’re all harmless. Usual scum-talk. Men lying to their wives, children lying to their parents, businessmen lying to their partners. The Togruta leaves the room, telling us to make ourselves at home. This is actually a good thing. Shows she feels she has nothing to hide.
“There’s nothing here, Agent Taus,” says Argon. We’ve been in there an hour, each of us going over one set of recordings.
“I suppose the team that monitors transmission back at base made a mistake,” I say. It could happen. Maybe it was not a scrambled signal at all, or they were the ones who scrambled it or something.
We step out of the office, back into the cantina. It looks strangely empty. In fact, as I look around, I realise that there are almost no patrons sitting there. But the entry of Imperial Officers like myself and Argon can have this impact. The sort of vermin that inhabits such places tends to fear us, and for good reason too. But I have no inclination to look into that now. It’s been a long day with no output.
“Did you find what you were looking for, Agent Taus?” asks the Togruta, looking at me with wide eyes. It’s odd how, in this grey robe, she looks so different from the alluring temptress who had been up on the stage. She seems very young now, though you never know how old these alien species are for sure. I’ve heard of some that live for centuries.
“Uh no, that is…there must have been some mistake,” I say.
“But, Agent Taus,” says Argon, pulling at my sleeve.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she says. “But of course I would have been mortified to know my cantina was being used for any sort of anti-Imperial activity. We are all loyal subjects here.”
“Agent Taus,” repeats Argon.
“You should know that you’re welcome here, at any time, Agent Taus,” she goes on. “It would be our honour and privilege to have you here as our guest. Would you like some Jamba Juice? Meiloorun Cocktails?”
“Why, that’s very…very kind of you,” I say, lost; quite lost in her shining blue eyes. “Uh…but maybe not right now, that is, it’s a long way back, and I—we—have to report our findings…”
“Agent Taus,” says Argon, almost shouting now. “There was a communicator in the office! It was on the desk! We did not check the logs.”
“What?” I ask.
“The office. The Manager’s office that we were just in. It had a private communicator. The suspicious message could have been sent from there. We should check its logs too!”
The Togruta female turns to the bar and picks up an elegant, narrow wine-glass in which the Rodian has poured some drink. She brings it to her lips, and I notice how elegant her fingers are, as though used to holding such finery. Truly odd to find someone like her in a place like this.
“Why, Agent Taus,” she says, waving her hand dismissively. “I assure you, no one but me has used that communicator. You don’t need to check those logs.”
“No one but you has used that communicator. I don’t need to check those logs,” I say, agreeing.
“No, look ‘ere, Agent Taus…she—she’s not telling us everything,” says Argon, and draws his blaster. He IS a fool.
“If you really want to check the logs, you can go back in there,” she says, placing her hands upon her hips, arching her waist ever-so-slightly to the right, suddenly bringing back the seductive dancer in front of my eyes.
“No, here. Bring them out here,” says Argon.
“I will not,” she says, sounding quite indignant now. “You can’t just come in here and bully us because you’re Imperials! I run an honest business here.”
“Look, Argon, put that blaster down,” I say.
“That office is a death trap, Agent Taus,” he says, finger on the trigger. “If we go in in there, there’s only one way out, we would be sitting ducks!”
“Are you going to…blast me if I don’t comply?” she asks, incredulity flashing in her eyes.
“I’ve set this blaster to the lowest setting,” says Argon. “Won’t kill you, Miss Offee, but will incapacitate you for a while, and pain like blazes after. If you don’t bring those recordings out even then, I’ll let you have it at full power.”
“You cannot be serious—” she says, looking at me in appeal.
His aim is dead straight at her chest.
She sways out of the way, like a dancer’s pirouette. The blast hits the wall behind. A few bottles explode.
Her hands are still on her hips.
No one can move that fast. To avoid a blaster shot at this range, you’d have to be a combat droid. But who braves a blaster-bolt to protect a mere holo-recording?
I draw my blaster as well.
“Citizen,” I say. “We need to see those recordings, now. Bring the recording here and we will take it back to our base with us—and you will come along too.”
“Are you sure you want that, Agent?” she asks. “I assure you, it’s quite unnecessary.”
Where have I seen her before? Why does she look so familiar?
“Padme Offee, you are under arrest for withholding information from an Imperial Officer. You can come with us now, or face the consequences of resisting arrest.”
“You should put those blasters down,” she says.
I fire. So does Argon.
Somehow, we both miss. Or rather, we don’t, because once again the shots end up behind her, exactly where the earlier one was, this time smashing nearly half the wall.
Not a scratch on the target.
Not a combat droid, no, clearly not. But those reflexes, those…I remember my training officer’s words when we were being taught to use blasters.
“Most cadets focus on learning to shoot rapidly, but if you want to be promoted, to be more than an ordinary grunt, learn to fire with accuracy. A blaster bolt is quick, Taus. Shoot it at the right spot and you’ll get your target every time. Well, unless it’s a combat droid, they move fast. That, or a Jedi.”
And as I see two rays of pure white light appear from the handles in each hand, one shorter, one longer, one held in a reverse grip and one in a regular grip, I realise that those holo-recordings were not the only thing she withheld.
“Seal the door, Aldo,” I hear her say. The Rodian sidles toward the control panel. Her voice is no longer that of a seductive cantina dancer or a business Manager. It’s the voice of someone used to giving orders. A warrior. A commander…
In a flash, I remember where I’ve seen her. In the Senate buildings, back in the day…and also, and also…in the list…I recall it now, yes, I recall who is second on the Empire’s Most Wanted List. Her name. Her name is…Soka? No, it’s…
“Yes, Commander Tano,” he replies, as the doors seal shut. I am about to tap the button activating my distress beacon, but I know there’s no point, I’d just be sentencing to death anyone who comes to our relief.
Me and Argon? We are about to die. We know it, even as we open blaster fire. We know it, even as she deflects the bolts effortlessly, almost lazily.
We are in a room with Ahsoka Tano, former Commander of the 501st Legion, apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, one of the last surviving Jedi.
We are about to die.
She raises her right hand, the one with the long lightsaber in it, turning off the blade. Argon goes sprawling backward into the wall, where his head collides with the concrete with such force that his helmet cracks and he falls to the floor in a heap. I wonder if he is alive in there.
I keep firing, though I know its little more than a distraction.
She walks up to me, as though taking a walk in the Palace Gardens. The shoto—the lightsaber in her off-hand—flashes, and my blaster is cut in half and falls to the floor. It must have taken incredible precision to cut only the blaster in half and not take off a part of my hand with it. But then, she’s Ahsoka Tano.
“I could kill you, but the Empire would find out there was a Jedi here, and a Rebel cell, anyway, wouldn’t they?” she says, conversationally, switching on the second lightsaber, and holding both, crossed over each other, such that my head is between the blade. One swish and I will be decapitated.
“I…I have sent for reinforcements already,” I lie. “They will be here any moment.”
“Have you?” she says. “Aldo, get out from the back way. Take only what’s important. Girls, you know where to go. Tell everyone to take off and make for Chopper Base.”
“You won’t get out in time. We are monitoring all ships leaving the system,” I say. “You can’t leave the planet.”
“No you aren’t,” she shoots back. “We would know. The only real question, Agent Taus, is whether you’re going to leave this cantina.”
“Am I?” I ask.
“That, Agent Taus, is up to you,” she switches off the sabers, and with a gesture, pulls up a chair for herself.
I stare as she sits, and crosses one leg over the other. The minutes tick on the holo-clock. She’s waiting for the Rebels to leave the planet before she…what? Why am I even alive, still?
“You haven’t sent a distress signal,” she states. It is not a question, so I don’t reply, I just nod. “Why?”
“You’d have killed them all.”
“I’d have had to,” she points out.
“You haven’t killed us yet,” I say.
“Will I have to?”
Her communicator springs to life. A Twi’lek female’s face appears. Her, I know. She’s exactly in the sort of Most Wanted list that is in my pay grade. Hera Syndulla, Phoenix Squadron.
“Ready for extraction, Commander Tano,” she says.
She gets up.
“Have you identified me, Agent Taus?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Has your friend there identified me?”
She gets up. The lightsabers are still in her hand, but they remain switched off. She begins walking to the office.
“So, what happened here, Agent Taus?” she asks.
I take a deep breath.
“Why, Manager Padme Offee, Agent Argon and I stepped in to look into a suspected Rebel transmission, but found nothing. However, a fight broke out and led to a lot of damage. The losses led to the business folding up, and the Manager and staff, unable to make good the losses, have given up and are untraceable. We will find, I’m sure, when we unscramble the message, that it WAS a Rebel message, but by that time we will have no one to trace it back to. Could be any of the patrons who used to come here.”
“And will Captain Argon say the same?”
I lift up my blaster. It’s broken, of course. I get up and walk over to Argon. He is not moving, but he IS groaning. I pick up his blaster, that had fallen from his hand when he slammed into the wall. My hand trembles. To my credit, it trembles. I fire.
“Very unfortunate, but Captain Argon was killed by a stray blaster-shot.”
She opens the door of the office.
“Pleasure doing business with you, Agent Taus,” she says. “I’d ask you to come back to the Jondari Cantina for that Meiloorun cocktail, but as you can see, we’re shutting down.”